Our journey begins with a Pimm's Cup cocktail at the Napoleon House, as Mr. Luz and I sit and sip, preparing for the amazing dishes that await us at the Green Goddess. The Napoleon House is quintessential New Orleans. The paint that peels off the thick stucco walls has probably been there for decades, and the orange light bulbs in the overhead fixtures burn like the hot, hot tropical nights that are to come as Louisiana moves towards summer. The patrons move slowly, and gaze out the windows onto the street for long periods of time--they observe the landscape, and they are the landscape. Mr. Luz and I breathe it all in--we've been suffocating, and this--right here--is our lifeblood.
We talk about Chef Chris DeBarr, who was named New Orleans Best New Chef in 2006, the draw of his food, and his new restaurant, the Green Goddess. Chef DeBarr has emailed me at 4 a.m. in the past few weeks to update me on the Grand Opening of the Green Goddess, and to describe the amazing products he managed to procure for his endeavor. Waking up to pages and pages of Chris's writing detailing the amazing ingredients discussed below was like beginning the day with a book of poetry. There's something about the early morning light and the late-night musings of a passionate chef that just feels right in my world. As we finish our drinks, Mr. Luz and I also reflect on the urban bohemian utopia that is New Orleans, and how Chef DeBarr at times embodies the wild, lyrical tolerance-nay, celebration of diversity, that is this city.
We leave the Napoleon House, and took the short walk to Exchange Alley. The Green Goddess is in an intimate alley that gets full sun approximately 2 hours of the day, and is a breezy, shady oasis otherwise.
After reaching the Green Goddess, we had the pleasure of talking with Miz Marrus, designer of the Green Goddess's gorgeous sign (absolutely essential to any N'awlins establishment). She told hilarious stories about iterations the image went through--at one point Chef DeBarr requested imagery from Greek and Roman mythology, the Statue of Liberty, and a Mardi Gras Indian all at once--to get to the wild, powerful image we have today. You can find more details here.We peek into the intimate, bronze-gilded dining area, and say hi to Chef DeBarr. Then, like any good and unobtrusive dinner guest, I start taking pictures of things. Scott greets us, and takes our drink order. At his previous restaurant, Chef DeBarr preferred to dispatch with the waitstaff and serve the food himself, which means you always have an expert describing your dishes and answering your questions. Keeping with that theme, Chef DeBarr staffs the Green Goddess with cooks and chefs that are as comfortable serving tables in the the front of the house as they are trained to create the dishes in the back of the house. Scott served us at our table, but also helped prep and cook our dishes. Needless to say, the enthusiasm and pride among the front of the house staff was palpable, and we loved discussing the dishes with their creators as we were experiencing them.
Mr. Luz started with the Brazilian Samba and I ordered the Island Sea Breeze from the Green Goddess "Juicy Cocktail" menu. The Brazilian Samba features cashew fruit juice, sparkling apple juice, white tea, and agave with frozen young coconut juice floating on top, and the Island Sea Breeze has Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda), hibiscus, acai juice, and lime juice. The drinks were complex, refreshing, and perfect for a sunny New Orleans late afternoon. Like any perfect creation, you can taste all of the elements independent from one another, and you also get an entirely different experience as all of the flavors harmonize into one.
We begin the Tasting Menu with the Niigata Bruschetta with edamame and mint tapenade with Japanese crazy wintry malted chiles on olive bread, paired with Chef DeBarr's Salty Banana Mango Lassi with basil seed drink "fault line" and curry sugar rim. If the Green Goddess were a microcosm of the utopian bohemia that is New Orleans, this dish would best represent the diversity that makes New Orleans so exciting. As Chef DeBarr tells the story, the tapenade is made of chiles that grow in the mountains of Japan. The chiles are packed in snow to mellow and sweeten their spicy elements, and then fermented in rice malt from the Niigata region of Japan for three years. The result is a salty, umami chile that Chef DeBarr mixes with fresh edamame and mint from his garden before spreading on thin, soft slices of bread. The dish is simultaneously sweet, earthy, and light on the palate. Chef DeBarr pairs the Niigata bruschetta with his dynamite Mango Banana Lassi (an appetizer in itself ) for a fantastically bright and decadadent first course.
The second course is a Pacific fiddlehead fern, fennel and absinthe bisque. Chef DeBarr roasts the nutty fiddlehead ferns with exotic Bengali seasonings, before cooking them a second time in the bisque. The aromatic ingredients nestle in the fiddleheads in a perfectly engineered dish.
Love. That bohemian theme is present in every element of Chef DeBarr's third course--the roasted golden beet carpaccio “ravioli” stuffed with truffled chèvre, finished with pomegranate molasses, Sardinian Saba, and avocado oil. This dish is all consuming, and almost bittersweet. Chef DeBarr roasts the sweet golden beets and slices them thin, with the tangy goat cheese between two slices. The pomegranate molasses is tart, and absolutely takes control of the roof of your mouth while the other elements dance on the front and sides of your tongue. The pink Himalayan salt that finishes the dish keeps it savory, and gives the subtle beets the kick they need to stand up to the more powerful elements.
The beet "ravioli" is paired with Chef DeBarr's Huckleberry Snowball, a "juicy cocktail" made of crushed ice sinking in Tazo Brambleberry Tea, Hansen’s Dragonfruit Sparkler, and an earthy huckleberry granita. The dark fruit flavors sink deeper into the shaved ice as you sip, and immediately, you are in love.
As we finish our Snowball, a brass band leads a second line of dancing, stomping folks past Exchange Alley and we pause to take in the joy that is strolling past us to the music of brass and drum.
Our fourth course could represent the Spirituality that strums beneath the NOLA way of life. Chef DeBarr's dish of lightly roasted asparagus, morels, petite green peas and shallot “Jam” with a juicy red wine reduction and fluffy red quinoa was the crescendo of the evening. The sauces sunk into the fluffy, earthy morels, and the caramelized shallots offered an intense sweetness to the bright spring flavors and the deep acidity of the red wine reduction. Mr. Luz tasted the Catholic incense of his alter boy days in the floral quinoa, and frankly, we were both emotional as we enjoyed the thoughtful purity of the dish in the peaceful New Orleans evening.
Music is the final urban bohemian element present in Chef DeBarr's Green Goddess tasting menu. His lychee ginger mint "cocktail" with lime absolutely sings. Mr. Luz described the ginger in this cocktail as analogous to hops in a good beer--it was aromatic, and exciting. The mint and lychee added subtle sweet and tangy flavors, and the candy mint danced across your tongue and left your mouth cool and fresh. Like the second line that graced our tasting menu earlier in the night, this "cocktail" alternately bounces and drifts across your palate, and is not to be missed.
Chef DeBarr finished the evening with his Mt. Hood Medicine Man salad, with shaved fennel, candied yuzu peel, hazelnuts and wild foraged spring greens with blood orange vinaigrette and avocado oil. This dish is perfectly lagniappe (meaning "a little something extra" in N'awlins-speak). Every bite is different, and the shaved fennel in particular changes whether you eat it with a bite of some of the bitter greens, the citrus-y yuzu peel, or the sweeter hazelnuts. The greens are foraged by hand on Oregon's Mt. Hood by a man named Running Squirrel. The greens truly taste wild, with a myriad of hidden flavors highlighted by Chef DeBarr's preparation, and they are fleeting in that they will only be harvested for a short time. In sum, Chef DeBarr's salad is a fresh, fleeting masterpiece in an otherwise stale culinary world where famous chefs haven't changed their menu since 2000 (sorry, Emeril).
The tasting menu ended with a toasted hazelnut tuile and blood orange sorbet with pine bud syrup, and a Louisiana strawberry crème brulee topped with caramelized balsamic syrup. The desserts progressed from citrus-y and bright to creamy and deep. (Maybe we also tasted Chef DeBarr's bread pudding with chocolate hazelnut--decadent!--and his Saturn Calling dessert made with sticky black rice pudding, coconut milk, mango and amaretto with tapioca pearls, which I highly recommend!)
Chef DeBarr's Green Goddess restaurant takes a purposefully and almost prayerfully distilled approach to melding fresh ingredients with exotic whimsy. In that way, he takes the traditional N'awlins approach to cooking, where roux-making is almost spiritual, and makes it his own. It is eclectic and original, in the most warm, approachable, and thoughtful way. Mr. Luz and I felt privileged to be able to attend a tasting dinner at the Green Goddess, and to enjoy the celebration of music, love, diversity, spirituality, and above all--rare and complex ingredients prepared with reverence--that the Green Goddess has to offer.
Other highlights from Chef DeBarr's dinner menu at the Green Goddess:
South Indian Savory Ivory Lentil Pancake (aka: utthappam) with petite green peas,
mustard seeds, kalonji, and spiced tomatoes with tamarind chutney & fiery dal. This dish tastes like an inside out samosa, fluffy and fun, and the tamarind paste puckers your palate in a good way!
Second favorite dish of the night: “Spooky” Blue Corn Crèpes with huitlacoche, (a
rare Aztec corn fungus) mushrooms & brandy ragout, finished with porcini salt and butter.
The huitlacoche can best be described as a sort of "noble rot" that gives the corn a meaty flavor and texture. The porcini salt and butter hits you in the face all at once and with every bite, and lends a truffled element to the dish.
Our final entrée was the Bison Bacon Meatloaf with asparagus roasted with serrano ham and twice baked potato and spicy steak sauce. My favorite part of this dish is the twice baked potato. The potatoes are whipped with yogurt instead of sour cream and then baked with manchego cheese. Scott told us that "you can't get the potatoes creamy enough for Chef Debarr-you could whisk butter, cream, and yogurt into them for hours and they're still not creamy enough." Awesome.